Do you remember being really young, and wishing like anything that you could run away from home and join the circus? Just the thought of the big tent with all the clowns, acrobats and then all the animals you would get to play with!
Or better yet, run off into the jungle and live like Tarzan and Jane!
That is just our imaginations talking… However, the reality of children growing up in the wild without human love and interaction can have devastating and irreversible consequences.
In 2007 a 27 year old Cambodian woman was discovered. A family claimed she was their daughter, identifiable by a scar on her right arm. They had lost two daughters nearly 20 years previously while herding buffaloes.
They tried to teach her to fit into their family life, by dressing her, and attempting to teach her their language. But, she preferred to crawl and refused to wear clothes.
She tried to escape many times, and succeeded recently, taking off her clothes and running back into the jungle. Experts doubt whether she is their child as they say ‘there is no way an 8-year old girl could survive in the jungle on her own for so long’.
This inevitably raises the ‘Nature vs Nuture’ debate. Are we ‘who we are’ due to our genes, or are our characteristics determined by our environment? It makes sense that both play a crucial part in our development.
What is evident is that children from a young age, who survive without human interaction in their crucial developmental years, will have enormous problems readjusting to society.
Experts believe that unless a child has learnt to speak by the age of 5, their brain is unable to pick up language.
Oxana Malaya was discovered in 1991, living with a pack of dogs on a rundown farm near the village of Novaya Blagoveschenka, Ukraine. When she was three, her alcoholic parents left her outside one night, so she found shelter and food with the dogs, and that is where she stayed. When she was found, she could hardly speak, and ran around on all fours barking.
She now lives in a home for the mentally disabled, with reports saying she has the mental age of a six year old.
Oxana was able to learn to talk again because she had already acquired some language before her abandonment.
For many years cases of children growing up feral have kept us fascinated.
It is impossible to imagine how hard it would be for them to survive in an animal world, without human contact and compassion.
What is also compelling is the idea of animals allowing children to join them, rather than instinctively attacking to kill.
There are stories of wolves and other animals raising children which can be dated back to ancient times.
Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ (1905) elaborated on a life spent growing up with wolves, with the character Mowgli. Disney further embellished this story, making all children around the world wish for what would in reality be a tragic and disturbing way to survive.
Documented stories of feral children leave the question around ‘Nature vs Nurture’ on shaky grounds, as it is evidential proof that nurture is a vital ingredient to our cognitive and physical development.
What do you think? Are we ‘who we are’ based on our DNA, our environment, or both?